While looking for a portrait of Robert Coningham (1784-1836), the man who raised Fitzjames as his own son, I came upon this silhouette portrait of him made in 1829.
Next to Robert are his son William and a ‘James Coningham’.
The term silhouette is derived from the 18th century French finance minister Étienne de Silhouette, who with his austerity measures caused things that were made poorly or cheaply to be called à la Silhouette. Cut-paper portraits were comparatively inexpensive and therefore à la Silhouette. In the UK it was called by multiple names: (black) shade, (black) profile, likeness, scissartype…
The Coningham silhouette portraits were made by Auguste Amant Constant Fidèle Edouart (1789–1861), a French artist who worked in the United Kingdom and the United States. His most famous clients were amongst others the French Royal Family, Victor Hugo and Sir Walter Scott.
Edouart kept duplicates of his work and carefully noted down the name of the sitter, date and location for each portrait. “A copy of every Likeness taken is kept by me, in books for the purpose ; so that at any time, the person or friends may have as many duplicates as they require, and at a less price.” He says the portrait cost the sitter 5 shillings, which was equivalent to a day’s wage for a skilled tradesman.1
Unfortunately, a large portion of his catalogue was ruined when in 1849 his boat to England was wrecked in a storm near Guernsey. Thankfully the page with the Coningham portraits has survived.
James Coningham Fitzjames
The book Ancestors in silhouette cut by August Edouart (1921) provides a list of the names of 8000 English, Scottish and Irish sitters and the date plus location their portrait was made. For the Coninghams the following is registered:
“Coningham, Master James (London, Jan. 23, 1829)
Coningham, Master Wm. (London, Jan. 23., 1829)
Coningham, Mrs. [Louisa] (London, April 24, 1829)
Coningham, Rev. R., Watford, Herts, [Died] May 22  (London, Jan. 24, 1829)”
Robert’s nephew John Sterling also had his portrait done on 29 January 1829 in London.
At first I thought James Coningham must be some relative of Robert and William, a cousin? Because of the secrecy surrounding his parentage it seems rather bold to refer to him as James Coningham and I therefore at first didn’t even consider that it could be James Fitzjames. Then I looked closer, and this Master James Coningham does look a whole lot like what would be a 15 year old James Fitzjames. The year checks out, too: in 1829 Fitzjames was living with Robert and Louisa Coningham and he was receiving a private education together with William.
To rule things out, I searched in archives to see if I could find any other young James Coninghams living around 1829. There is one who got married in 1827 in North Yorkshire. Also one who died in Lancashire in 1839, and one who died in Suffolk in 1849. Next one appears in the 1851 census as living in Liverpool and being 50 years old. That would’ve made him 28 years old in 1829. But the James Coningham in the portrait is called ‘Master’, which was a polite form of address for boys who were too young to be called Mister.
If this James Coningham was some cousin, why was he the only one from his immediate family having his portrait done? There are no other Coninghams on Edouart’s list besides James, Robert, William and Louisa. Fitzjames was to Robert like an adopted child.
It thus makes sense that Fitzjames is the James Coningham who accompanied Robert and William when they had their portrait done in January 1829.
Edouart describes his process of registering all of his clients thus: “To speak concerning my labours, I shall give an idea of them : the names of the persons I take, and the dates, written five times over — first , on the duplicate of the Likeness — secondly, in my day book – thirdly, in the book in which I preserve them — fourthly, in the index of that book and fifthly, in the general index. This much in itself is a hard task to fulfil. Without this arrangement, how could I, at a minute’s notice tell, whether I had taken the Likeness of any person enquired for, and could it be otherwise possible, to produce the Silhouette, or to know from about fifty books folio size, and above fifty thousand Likenesses, if I had taken the one required? For correctness’ sake, I have also a diary of what I do, and by that means, am able to tell the quantity of full lengths, are children, duplicates, public characters, busts, and animals, I have taken since I began. All this is done by myself, to avoid mistakes which may be made by others, detrimental to the accuracy requisite in a collection of the kind, where surnames and christian names ought to be exact to a letter.”
The question is: how did James Fitzjames come to be called James Coningham by Edouart when he noted down the details of the portrait? Edouart was very meticulous in noting down the details of his clients, even going back later to add ‘Died 22 May 1836′ under Robert’s portrait. Curiously the caption under James’ portrait doesn’t mention the year, only the date. The year is however provided in the list of clients mentioned earlier.
“It has been my invariable practice, to ask the names of my sitters, and write them on the backs of the duplicates, which duplicates I place in my books […]”, Edouart says. Robert had his portrait done on 24 January, while William and James had theirs on 23 January. Did the two boys go alone, or was Robert accompanying them and did he give their names to Edouart? Either way, the name James Coningham was told to Edouart and not something he came up with himself.
Pose and personality
The silhouette portrait was cut in a matter of minutes. “The time I occupy in taking a Likeness, is generally five minutes, sometimes more and sometimes less, according to circumstances.” To Edouart it was important that the sitter’s unique features and personality were conveyed in their silhouette likeness, so that a relative or friend would instantly recognise the sitter. He strove to create living images, not statues. He also made sure that when placing his sitters in a row that their actual height difference was maintained.
“Persons having their Likenesses, should be careful to stand in their natural attitude, and as easy as possible. […] In order to have the features correctly given, every contraction of them should be avoided. […] The features must be allowed their natural freedom ; frequently I enter into conversation with the sitter, on purpose to give him a speaking expression […]. For my own part, as I have only an outline to represent objects, I am very particular never to deviate from it ; and I have very often refused to take Likenesses when the sitters pretending, some to have a few inches more in height, some not to be so corpulent, others to be erect when they had a stoop, and many other alterations, which would effectually spoil the Likeness.”
At the time of the portrait, William was 13 years old and Fitzjames 15 years old. It makes sense that while William still looked like a boy, Fitzjames was taller and already looking like quite the young gentleman. The hand on the hip pose looks confident. His gesture recalls the adlocutio2 pose typically shown by ancient Roman statues of emperors signifying leadership and being a skilled orator. At 15, Fitzjames was already able to speak multiple foreign languages.
Edouart said that “the hand, by its motions, is very expressive ; of all the parts of the body, the most active and the most rich in articulations : for this reason , I have taken care to produce a concordance between the gesture and the expression of the features […]. The hand speaks, and its conformation, with more than twenty joints, produces the articulation of the language. A straight finger according to the angle of position, will indicate command, threats, derision, demonstration, attention, & c . & c . & c . In fact the hands have such strong language, that, by carefully observing, one may have full proofs of it ; they may be even used as telegraphs ; which can be perceived, in the French, Italian, Spanish, and other nations of the South, who speak almost as much by the hands as by the voice.”
Because showing the sitter’s unique features and personality was important to the artist, the attributes held by the sitters must be significant and meant to contribute to the recognisability. Is that a sailor’s cap in James’ hand? By 1829 Fitzjames had spent three years in the Royal Navy, holding the rank of Volunteer of the First Class when he returned to live with the Coninghams in 1828. It would make sense for him to be portrayed with a naval attribute.
The following illustration is of a Volunteer of the Second Class in the early 1800’s:
While the brim of James’ cap is much larger than the one in the illustration, it still has a nautical appearance. It has a slight similarity to a newsboy cap, which also has a button on top. However, the cap James is holding appears higher, with room for a band of cloth above the brim. It looks similar, minus the button on top, to the Officer’s cap Fitzjames is holding in his 1845 Daguerreotype:
In conclusion, I believe that the James Coningham in the silhouette portrait must be James Fitzjames. There are sufficient factors that indicate that it is so.
When the portrait was done in January 1829 Fitzjames was living with the Coningham family. The only Coninghams on Edouart’s list of clients are the people Fitzjames was living with. Physically, the portrait resembles what a 15 year old Fitzjames could have looked like: the hair, the nose, the build… they are a good match with his Daguerreotype portrait taken 16 years later. The cap in his hand is also an important clue. This silhouette portrait shows just how much of a true Coningham he actually was.
In October 2014 the page with the Coninghams and Cutler silhouettes came up for auction at Cowan’s and was subsequently sold by McClard Segotta Antiques to a private collector. (Many thanks to Peggy McClard for providing a clear picture of the silhouettes and some background information.)
To the right of James Coningham there is a silhouette of one Adolphus Cutler, Esquire.
In Edouart’s list it says “Cutler, Adolphus, Esq., City (London, Feb. 23, 1829)”
All I could find on Mister Cutler is the following news in the London Gazette of June 1836:
So in 1836 Mister Cutler was a tin-plate-dealer in the City of London.
According to the Edouart (1921) book, most of the people who were put close together on the same page were in some way associated with each other. Maybe Adolphus Cutler was a friend of the Coninghams and his name is mentioned somewhere in the Coninghams’ correspondence…
by Fabiënne Tetteroo
23 January 2022
1. https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter/ Currency Converter: 1270 – 2017
2. Statue of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar (1st century AD marble copy of 20 BC bronze original) showing adlocutio pose
Edouart, Augustin Amant Constant Fidèle A Treatise on Silhouette Likenesses 1835
Jackson, Mrs. F. Nevill Ancestors in silhouette cut by August Edouart, 1921